Nothing new under the sun
Author: Maria Konnikova
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd.
Once upon a time, more than a century ago, we were introduced to a very intelligent detective by the name of Sherlock Holmes who, with the aid of his friend and colleague Dr. John Watson, solved crimes for the Scotland Yard. Now fast forward to our current time, add two movies and two TV shows that have brought the consulting detectives back to our attention and good graces so much so that some of us (myself included) have become a little too obsessed with all things Sherlock Holmes.
When I found out about Maria Konnikova’s book: Mastermind – How to think like Sherlock Holmes, I was so enthralled by the subject that when I finally received the book to review, it felt like Christmas morning before opening the presents.
Now that I have read it, all that I have left to say is „That’s it?!”
I started reading Mastermind with the secondary title in mind – How to think like Sherlock Holmes – and boy, was it misleading. Nowhere along the book does Konnikova mention the „how to” accompanies the „why?” and rightly so explains how Sherlock thinks and how Watson thinks and why the first method of thought is better than the latter, even if at times the author seems to contradict herself from one chapter to the next about which way of thinking is best – the slow one (Sherlock) or the fast one (Watson), because she seems to reprimand Watson for being either too quick to jump to conclusions or too slow to reach the desired result.
The construction is based on a framework that uses both characters, snippets of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and current psychology studies to illustrate concepts from the same field. We are introduced to the idea of the memory attic when talking about how our memory works and how we make and retrieve memories, the book talks about observation, imagination and creativity and how
they are used by our protagonist in solving cases, about the power of deduction and connecting the facts and finally about self-knowledge and how all the concepts that have been presented so far can be used together to form an opinion by paying close attention to our environment and never drawing a conclusion based on anything other than the information at hand.
I am truly sorry that all my initial enthusiasm died along the way due to the beating of the proverbial dead horse. The author presented the same idea over and over again along the chapters in a slightly different form, while trying to distract me from this fact with extracts from A Study in Pink or The Baskerville Hound or studies which have been presented better before in pop psychology books in the last few years (such as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow that uses the same concepts of fast and slow thinking to explain how we form our reactions).
At times the book feels like it was put together through a series of articles that were not revised well enough to make a perfect whole and you can see the cuts and glue sticking out at the seams. To use the words of Sherlock Holmes „there is nothing new under the sun” and that is a sad fact, since the subject was so ripe as to make for an amazing read.
In conclusion, you leave as you have entered - not knowing very well how to make your mind think more like Sherlock’s and with zero mastermind points under your belt. We do however learn that our way of thinking is very Watson-like and maybe that is not that bad, since all that logic and deduction might turn us into insensitive, perfectly calibrated machines of reason.
Pointing out the differences between the Holmes and the Watson way of thinking and why each of them thinks that way.
The slow pace, the repetition of ideas and the lack of explanations on how or what to do to change the Watson way of thinking into a system Holmes way of thinking.
For the Sherlock fan that will be patient enough to reach the end of this book and go through all the tedious and tiresome information. For those of you that actually want to find methods to apply to your own way of thinking or at least find out something new about the way our minds work, skim through the book and stop only every other page.